Edmonds to delay most drastic cuts

  • By Chris Fyall Enterprise editor
  • Tuesday, December 2, 2008 10:42pm

Yost Pool is off the chopping block — for now.

Two weeks after raising taxes and fees by $4.5 million by 2010, Edmonds’ City Council signaled its intent to delay millions of dollars of “draconian” program cuts for as long as possible, which might only be until 2011.

That’s two years later than earlier proposals, which would have seen the closure of the city’s only public pool, the elimination of DARE, and all city crime prevention and economic development, as soon as Jan. 1, 2009.

The council unanimously approved the budget Dec. 2.

The proposed cuts drew loud protests from citizens for weeks, who rallied particularly strong support for the pool.

“We may have won this year, but we may have to fight again next year, and the year after that,” said Jeff Draper, who helped organize to save Yost Pool.

Draper is right, officials implied. Unless new money can be found, and soon, the city will be contemplating steep cuts in the near future, they said.

“We have stopped the bleeding with this budget, but there is clearly a looming challenge,” councilmember DJ Wilson said Dec. 2.

Already, city officials have pledged to spend much of 2009 studying ways to raise money. Two task groups have formed to study possible ballot items.

The council unanimously approved a budget note Dec. 2 that calls on the city to get something before voters by November 2009.

What sort of help voters might be asked to provide won’t be known until the spring, but it will likely be a multi-million package intended to stave off the deep cuts for the foreseeable future.

“We just need to be honest with the pub—lic that either draconian cuts are going to be made to services, or we are going to have to come up with new revenue sources,” said Councilmember Deanna Dawson.

“It is not fair to people (for us) to say, ‘Yeah, we need to make cuts, but it won’t be parks, it won’t be the pool, and it won’t be the fire department, and — ’ That’s all there is folks,” Dawson said Nov. 25. “It has to be one of those things. You have to either cut one of them, or you have to come up with new money.”

By refusing sharp cuts now, the council continued its recent trend of digging deeply into the city’s pocketbook.

By 2011, the city’s general fund ending balance is expected to shrink to roughly $726,000, less than 15 percent of the roughly $5 million recommended by the MSRC.

In 2007, the fund had $3.6 million. The money essentially helps the city weather financial storms, and is important when the city tries to raise bond money, said finance director Kathleen Junglov.

For months, officials have wrestled with what began as a $5.4 million shortfall in the 2009-2010 biennial budget.

The shortfall accounted for about 7.6 percent of an anticipated $70.6 million in general-fund revenues.

Some cuts were headed for approval by the council Dec. 2, including planned technology equipment purchases, a crime prevention specialist, and six other positions in City Hall.

A long-term fix will require more dramatic steps, said Mayor Gary Haakenson.

“There’s no doubt that we have to make those cuts in either 2009 or 2010, unless we find a long-term solution to the revenue problem,” he said. “We don’t want to be back in the same position in five years.”

Those cuts include funding for park maintenance, the city’s fiber optic program, the parks Discovery program and staff positions across City Hall. Officials have also started discussions to jettison the city’s fire department into a regional fire authority (RFA), which would require voter approval.

Such a move could eventually save voters some money, but would be an immediate financial boon for Edmonds city government. An RFA would save the city roughly $4 million a year, Fire Chief Tom Tomberg said.

For years, rising labor costs have been shrinking the city’s margin for error. Salaries and benefits now account for 70 percent of the city’s budget.

Reporter Chris Fyall: 425-673-6525 or cfyall@heraldnet.com

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